A movement in Art and Literature originating in France and flourishing in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Characterised by a fascination with the bizarre, the incongruous and the irrational. It was conceived as a revolutionary mode of thought and action, a way of life rather than a set of stylistic attitudes, and in this, resembled Dadaism, its principal source.
André Breton, the main theoretician of the movement said its purpose was ‘ to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality – a super reality’. He and the members of the movement drew liberally on the theories of Sigmund Freud concerning the subconscious mind and its relations to dreams, but the way in which they set about exploration of submerged impulses and imagery varied greatly.
Some artists – Ernst, Masson and Miró cultivated various spontaneous techniques such as frottage, in an effort to eliminate conscious control. It was in painting where Surrealism received its widest expression. It was an art of paradox where the exact pictorial description of objects and figures is paired with their irrational combination. Dali and Magritte and others painted in a scrupulously detailed manner to give hallucinatory sense of reality to scenes that make no rational sense.
In Surrealist constructions and assemblages, as well as some paintings, the unexpected and startling juxta-positions of unrelated objects was used to create a sense, not so much of unreality, as of a fantastic but compelling reality outside the everyday world.
A quote from the poet Lautréamont gives a clue to the Surrealist’s search: ‘Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table’.
With its stress on the marvellous and the poetic, Surrealism offered an alternative approach to the formalism of Cubism and the various types of Abstract art. It was a fundamental source for Abstract Expressionism.